Rita Dove's life is a litany of great accomplishments in different fields. Born in Akron, Ohio, in 1952, Dove taught creative writing at Arizona State University for eight years, during which time she received the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in poetry for her book Thomas and Beulah, which was loosely based on the lives of her maternal grandparents. She began teaching at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville in 1989, and was named U.S. Poet Laureate in 1993. Throughout her life, Dove has nurtured a love of dance that has led her to dance in competitions with her husband, Fred Viebahn, and has led to many poems about dancing, of which "American Smooth" is one ("American Smooth" is a dance term that refers to four standard ballroom dances). Writing about dancing, Dove says, gives her "...the luxury of writing within a framework -- each dance has a distinct feel, an imbedded cadence that will suggest a certain shape or silhouette on the page. ...When I began to appreciate the technical intricacies of each style...the rise upon tiptoe, [or] the gradual lowering from tiptoe that one executes in the second half of the third beat of the waltz -- only then did 'American Smooth' start to shimmer into being." Dove has published nine volumes of poetry, a book of short stories, Fifth Sunday, a collection of essays, The Poet's World, and the novel Through the Ivory Gate. "A dancer toils to skim the surface of the floor... but the goal is to appear weightless," says Dove; "a poet struggles to render into words that which is unsayable...in hopes of striking the reader speechless."
"We were dancing -- it must have..."
To read other poems by Rita Dove, as well as biographical information about the poet, please visit the Poetry Foundation Web site.